Saturday, February 23, 2013

Records are Meant to Be Broken

For the student-athletes competing in the 2013 Atlantic Sun Indoor Track and Field Championship winning was simply not enough.

Nineteen athletes surpassed previous marks in the two days of the 2013 A-Sun Championship. Four athletes alone ran a faster men’s 800m time than had been previously recorded in 2010.

Setting such high standards is not something that comes without hard work. The A-Sun student-athletes put long hours in year-round to get to where they are.

Sometimes that means trying something new to find your range. Sometimes that means doing something out of your comfort zone. Strenuous. Tedious. Exhausting work to put mind over matter and become the best.

ETSU’s Ifrish Alberg, a new A-Sun record holder in the 60m, was all too aware of what it would take, it was just about making the change.

“In August, I went to my coach and said if I want to run fast this year I need to do longer distance running.”

He started training with the 400m group to build strength and it paid off well. Alberg’s 60m time of 6.68 beat the previous time of 6.75 that was set by the Bucs James Ranier in 2006.

Alberg explained that this change in the team’s workout regimen made him confident the Buccaneers would go one, two, three this year.

“Winning this championship for the second time and defending my title is just amazing. It shows that our work paid off.”  

Alberg sets his standards high and breaking this record raises the bar for future athletes not only in at ETSU but in the A-Sun.

One of Alberg’s teammates K’Vonte Scott set a high mark for competitors to try to beat in the heptathlon by crushing the previous meet record by 206 points.

A sophomore, Scott says his most challenging events are the shot put and the vault. With both of the events he is either on or off so in order to make it to the next level he will have to focus on those two more than anything.

On the women’s side Jacksonville’s Bienna Freeman took the 800m record with a time of 2:09.92; nearly two seconds faster than the previous record in 2006.

Freeman said that the key to her success was a lot of distance, speed and endurance training.

“There was a lot of build-up to get to this point in the season; it took a lot of hard work and training,” Freeman said.  

The athletes that broke the meet records are not settling for where they are.  

The next step?

Qualifying for nationals. And several of them feel that they are within reach.

Kennesaw State’s Andre Dorsey’s record breaking marks in the high jump and triple jump pushed him into the national ranks.

Dorsey said, "I give so much credit to my teammates. I had some hamstring problems coming in but they never let me give up. Now I'm ready to go to nationals."

“Today feels really good, but I was really hoping to qualify for national and I didn't quite get it,” Freeman said. “Hopefully we’ll head to another meet so I’ll have one more chance.”

Scott also knows that he may have two more seasons of indoor track and field but he was ready for nationals this year.

“This meet I was really trying to meet the national mark which is 5400. I fell shy but that just means I will have to work harder to get it next year.”

Friday, February 22, 2013

Big Day One Sets Up Showdown Between A-Sun Heavyweights

Kennesaw State and ETSU are notorious for bringing the best out of each other in the Atlantic Sun Indoor Track and Field Championship. Of the past seven league championship, the Buccaneers have taken four titles and the Owls have taken three.

After day one of the indoor championship, KSU stands on top by 16.5 points, but head coach Andy Eggerth knows to never get comfortable when it comes to the battle between the two.

“ETSU has been performing awesome as well, we know that it’s going to be a dog fight to the end. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out,” Eggerth said.

The Owls marked an outstanding first day of competition with several personal records broken.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my athletes. They’ve been setting lifetime personal records all over the place.”

Michael Owenby crushed his personal best with a vault of 15’7”. Owenby’s vault was nearly three feet better than his best vault last year to claim second place in the event.

Also helping the Owls out in day one was Rob Harvey who took gold in the shot put. His win in the shot put was the first for the Owls since the 2010 Championship, which the Owls ended up winning.

Rasmus Rooks and Nabil Hamid claimed silver for KSU by marking new personal bests in the long jump and 3000m.

Eggerth was ecstatic with his team’s results.

“We had terrific performances all over the place. I can’t even begin to say everyone that came through. There wasn’t just one person that came through, it was a real team effort today and we needed that.”

When looking forward to day two and what it will take for KSU to even the score with the Bucs and grab their fourth title Eggerth put it plain and simple.

“It is going to take perfection.”

Eggerth has worked all season to prepare his team for this moment and now all he can do is hope that it pays off with perfection.

“There’s not going to be any room for error for either of us. We know that we’re going to show up and perform but ETSU is going to show up and perform as well. It’s really going to take perfection and the team with less errors is the team that will come out on top tomorrow. I’m just hoping that team is us.”

Charles Puts Team First; JU Reaps the Rewards

Jacksonville senior Charlene Charles started competition in her fourth and final Atlantic Sun Conference Indoor Track & Field Championship today at ETSU.

Her team has claimed seven straight A-Sun track & field team titles, and her individual accomplishments are impressive, to say the least. Her highlights include selection once as a second-team All-American, and she has qualified twice for the NCAA Championships and three times for NCAA preliminary rounds. She is an eight-time A-Sun individual champion, an 18-time all-conference honoree and has posted the top scores in conference meets 23 times.

There are some things, however few in number, that Charles still wants to accomplish before her collegiate career comes to an end. They begin with this weekend.

“My only goal is to score as many points for my team as I can,” says Charles. “Hopefully it won’t be my last indoor meet of the spring, as I want to be able to qualify for the NCAA indoor championships as well.”

Charles has enjoyed many memorable moments throughout her career, but the one memory that stands out and that serves to continually motivate her is one that was a far cry from her best. As a freshman at the A-Sun Championship, Charles was on target to potentially claim an individual title in the pentathlon. However, three fouls in the shotput for a total of zero points cost her the opportunity, and it was a moment that she and her coach Ron Grigg say helped shape her career.

“I remember that moment, I can still see her sitting in the hallway at ETSU just sobbing,” said Grigg. “It was devastating, like her entire life had ended. I went to her and we talked about how she had a decision to make. She had to choose between pity and becoming a team player. She went on to have a phenomenal long jump and to finish well.”

Charles was named the Most Valuable Performer, the Most Outstanding Field Performer and the Most Outstanding Freshman Performer at the conference meet after winning the long jump (19’8”), placing second in the 60-meter (7.66), finishing third in the pentathlon (3,431 points) and taking fourth in the 200-meter (25.00).

Since that meet she has garnered five additional most outstanding or most valuable honors, broken several school records and claimed numerous individual and meet titles.

It is that kind of spirit, that type of character and personality that Head Coach Ron Grigg says has enabled Jacksonville to enjoy unparalleled success in A-Sun women’s track & field.

“It all begins with recruiting. There is a certain character that we look for when we look at student-athletes, and of course JU has its own filters as well. But Charlene has that character, and she typifies what we look for in our student-athletes.

“For us it is also important to have versatile athletes who can do more than one thing because we are such a small squad,” Grigg continues. “We have to have people who we not only field in events but who can compete to win in those events.

“To have the success that we have enjoyed over the last several years, I think for us it comes down to what makes a team versus a program. We certainly have student-athletes who are excelling as individuals that help the team win, but who also understand that there are times when the team is the most important thing. Having that kind of commitment over the long term is how you develop the successful program. And it goes back to the types of people, like Charlene Charles and others, that you bring into the program.”

Surprisingly, Charles says that her Dolphins don’t expect to go out and win every meet. They do, however, prepare to do so. That, she says, is why they are seven-time A-Sun champions.

“We don’t just go out and expect to win, but we want to win just like everyone else,” she said. “What we do is try to do our best and prepare for that. We definitely want to win our eighth consecutive title. Everyone may expect us to win, and certainly to us not winning is not an option.

“Our work ethic and passion for the sport I think is what has led us to the success that we have. I am so proud of my teammates, because they give 100 percent every day at practice. Plus, I have the best coach here at JU that I have ever had, and I have been around some very good ones. Even down to the trainers and everyone in the athletic department, the commitment to us is obvious and that is very encouraging.”

Grigg will be the first to admit that he and his squad are very blessed to get along as well as they do. Grigg hasn’t had to do a lot of team building with this championship squad, because they truly do enjoy each other.

“We have been blessed to have this kind of team,” said Grigg. “They enjoy hanging out together, the way they interact with each other shows you that they enjoy each other. They are a small group, and that has been one component of our success that has just happened naturally.”

Competing in her last A-Sun Indoor Championship, Charles is prepared to go out on top, but not at the expense of enjoying her last season with her JU teammates.

“Obviously this is my last season, and so this will be my last chance to compete with my team for the A-Sun Indoor title,” said Charles. “This is the beginning of a new chapter for me, and as a senior I am trying to enjoy each moment.”

“Charlene has enjoyed great growth since arriving at JU,” said Grigg. “She came from Europe, and the athletes and their teams are usually more individually based. She had to learn quickly that he can excel individually and also as a team member, particularly at the conference championships.

Grigg also adds that Charles is a great example for his team academically, and it excites him that she has taken full advantage of allowing her athletic gifts to benefit her academically.

“She had to overcome a language barrier but still was able to not only succeed but excel in the classroom,” said Grigg. “I am so proud of her for her ability to take advantage of the educational opportunities that were afforded her. Last year instead of going home to France for the summer like most foreign students, she stayed and worked on an internship. It is tough to be away from family for that long of a period, but she has been doing everything she can to excel off the track as well. She does all of the extra things, no matter what she is doing.”

Charles will not compete in the pentathlon this weekend at the A-Sun Championship, a gamble that she and Grigg hope pays off in the long run as she continues to push to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships.

“First and foremost I certainly want to win an eighth-consecutive A-Sun team championship. Then individually, I am really trying to qualify to go to the national indoors, and I am excited about that possibility. I am shooting for All-American status, so I can leave on top.”

Monday, February 11, 2013

Which of the following performances is worthy of the Crons Achiever Award for January?

Crons sponsors the monthly "Achiever Award," which is presented to the school recognized by a fan vote for the most notable achievement from the month prior. Below are the descriptions of each submission, along with the poll in the right-hand sidebar.

Joane Pierre – Jacksonville Women’s Indoor Track & Field
Pierre was undefeated in individual races for the month (3 wins). She won the mile at the Florida Gator Invitational by over 10 seconds (4:57.46), the claimed the mile in a school-record time of 4:50.76 at the Jimmy Carnes Invitational. Not only did she win the mile, but returned minutes after the conclusion of that race to lead wire-to-wire to win the 800 meters at the Jimmy Carnes Invitational (2:13.41).

Pierre was also part of a 4X400 relay team that finished second at the Florida Gator Invitational (3:50.67).

Sherwood Brown – FGCU Men’s Basketball
To say January was a career month for FGCU men’s basketball senior Sherwood Brown would be an understatement. Over the nine-game month, Brown became the third player in program history to hit the 1,000 career point plateau, but topped that by becoming the first player in the 11-year FGCU history to record four consecutive double-doubles. Brown hit the 1,000-point mark in style, scoring a career-high 29 points on 11-of-17 from the field while adding 10 rebounds against Northern Kentucky to cap the four straight games with a double-double.

Also along the way, he scored 20 points in three straight games and became the first multiple A-Sun Player of the Week this season. Brown’s huge month has set him up to become FGCU’s first player and the fourth current A-Sun player with 1,000 points and 500 rebounds.

Adam Pegg – Stetson Men's Basketball
Pegg had an exemplary month of January, both on and off the court.

On the hardwood, he led the Hatters to a 6-2 start to Atlantic Sun play, Stetson's best record through eight games of league play since the 1998-99 campaign.  The center averaged 17.7 points per game on 55.4 percent shooting during the month.  He scored in double figures in each of the nine games.
Pegg added a team-best 6.8 rebounds per game in January, tallying back-to-back double-doubles vs. Lipscomb and Florida Gulf Coast.

The senior also received accolades for his work in the classroom in January.  Thanks to his stellar academic achievements, including a 3.39 GPA, the integrative health science major was named one of just five student-athletes to the Capitol One Academic All-District 4 Team on Jan. 31.

As the Official Motivation and Apparel Brand of the Atlantic Sun Conference, Crons sponsors the monthly "Achiever Award" to recognize what A-Sun fans deem the most notable performance from each month.

The Crons Brand provides what it calls “high quality motivational apparel, merchandise, and accessories to inspire people to get better and constantly strive for their goals.” It also strives to reinforce positive messages to athletes about what it takes to be a winner and the importance of working harder than anyone else in order to reach their full potential.

Crons communicates this message through four separate product categories: Team Gear, Lifestyle Apparel, Nutritional Products, and School Programs. Crons is a national brand with its message-themed and motivational merchandise and apparel already in use by more than 500 schools and organizations in 25 states. 

Crons perpetuates its message through its Achievers Program, designed to teach students the importance of setting and achieving goals. The program focuses on fostering skills that will help young people set smart, measurable goals now and in the future – leading to academic, personal and professional success.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Kenny Sugishita: "No One Ever Gets Lucky in This Sport"


Six NCAA Division I Track & Field standouts swept the throwing events in either their conference’s indoor or outdoor championships last season.

Let me list the size of those guys for you: 6-4, 330 pounds; 6-1, 275 pounds; 6-2, 305 pounds; 6-5, 320 pounds; 6-2, 300 pounds, 5-11, 215 pounds. Something may have stuck out as you read the list. Only one of those stars checked in at less than 6-0 and 275 pounds – Kenny Sugishita from USC Upstate.

Sugishita put together one of the most dominating throwing seasons in Atlantic Sun Conference history despite being undersized for the sport, sweeping all weighted throwing events in the A-Sun’s indoor and outdoor championships.
“I am definitely smaller than the average thrower, so that served as a good tool to keep me working hard and to be as efficient as possible in practice and in the weight room so I can try to compete with them,” Sugishita said. “No one ever gets lucky in this sport; it comes down to the hours your willing to put into the preparation.”
His work ethic stands out for head coach Natalie Smith.

“Kenny is a very technical thrower in my eyes that really works through all the bases, whether that’s in the weight room, in the ring or doing plyometric type training.  At the end of the day he studies himself and looks for the areas that he needs to get better and understands process.  Understanding process and actually walking through process is what will give you advantages that cancel out your size.”

The hours have definitely paid off for the senior. He owns five USC Upstate records and a conference meet record despite having only one-year of Division I experience under his belt.  The preparation joins focus to set Sugishita apart.
“The two qualities that Kenny exhibits the gives him an edge at this level is that he is truly self-determined and focused,” said head coach Natalie Smith. “I know that as coaches we may say that often however Kenny truly walks it.  He carries a lot on his plate both in education and in academics and really never misses a beat.  Kenny understands balance.”

Balance is a key component to championship technique for any thrower and for Sugishita, balance may be even more important due to his size. The basis of his technical training lies in his throws coaches. 

“A major influence on my athletic career was my Junior college coach, “Coach Mac (Bob MacKay).” He not only created a great base in my technique in the events, but really taught me how to compete personally, and at a college level,” reflected Sugishita. “My coaches during my time at Upstate, Colton Hodge and Karl Gehrke keep me motivated every day and keep me humble as they were excellent throwers themselves in college.”

Kenny is not the only collegiate thrower in his family as his brother Tommy competed at Coastal Carolina and those common experiences and family support have been influential as well.
“Tommy and I, whether we like to admit it or not, are very similar in the competitiveness we have, and work ethic, and even simple mannerisms that we have as brothers,” stated Sugishita. “Both of us enjoy seeing hard work paying off, and we have always been able to relate to each other on any aspect of life.  I feel like it’s because of that competitiveness in throwing that we share the same values. My family has always been very supportive of what I do, whether its sports, school, anything really. They are always there to remind me to work through any bad practices or meets and it helps keep me motivated through the good and bad days.”

As if he needed any additional drive, Sugishita remembers a childhood friend when needing a little more inspiration at the end of a day.

“A childhood friend of mine, David King, recently passed away after the most inspirational battle with a rare cancer. That has really added an extra push in my every day training and studying.”

Sugishita will get the first chance to make his case to be considered the best thrower in conference history in late February at the A-Sun Indoor Track & Field Championships. Until then, he will continue to prepare and fine-tune his technique like he’s been doing all along.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bears Women's Golfers Return Experienced and Committed in 2013

Mercer Head Coach Gary Guyer eyes the shot of junior Mary Alice Murphy.

In the 2012 A-Sun Women’s Golf Championship, the Mercer women’s golf team fired an 880, the third-lowest three-round total ever in the A-Sun Championship.

However, it just so happened that the teams that shot the best and second-best totals did so in the same tournament, serving as an indication as to how women’s golf in the A-Sun has progressed in the last several years.

“The level of women’s golf in the A-Sun compared to three or four years ago is like night and day,” said Mercer Head Women’s Golf Coach Gary Guyer. “We shot an 880 in the conference championship and finished third, and we got beat by two other good teams in KSU and ETSU. We averaged 73.3 in the championship, and when I first got here we averaged about 87. That tells you something not only just about our team, but that the whole conference is getting better.”

After recording top-five finishes in each of its five events in the fall, Mercer women’s golf is ready for that momentum to spill over into spring 2013. The Bears opened their spring schedule today at the Hurricane Invitational in Miami, which features a field comprised of 10 teams ranked in the top 100 and four teams ranked in the Top 50 by Golfstat.

“This first tournament will give us a good idea of where we are and what we need to focus on,” said Guyer, “because we will be playing against some Top 50 teams. The toughest thing for mid-majors is to get into really good tournaments. KSU and ETSU have been good at getting in and doing well when you are there so you get asked back. We are getting there, but it takes time.”

Junior Lacey Fears

Individual Bears also experienced success in the fall, particularly Lacey Fears and Mary Alice Murphy. Fears carded three top-10 finishes, including her fifth career individual title at the LPGA/Xavier Invitational and a runner-up at the Eat-A-Peach Collegiate.

“I felt pretty confident this fall, and was able to win the LPGA and record pretty good finishes in the others,” said Fears. “I feel good about the momentum I gained from the fall leading into the spring for me and the team.”

Murphy also recorded three top-10 finishes, including a second-place finish at the Terrier Intercollegiate hosted by Wofford.

“My favorite tournament of the fall was the first of the season at Wofford, in which I came in second,” said Murphy. “The course was more like the ones back home in Chattanooga, so it was nice to be on something a little more familiar.”

In each of the Bears’ five events, Fears or Murphy was the team’s leader. They both admit a friendly competition, driving each other to be her best in every event.

“Lacey has been so supportive these last three years, and I have really appreciated and enjoyed having her on the team with me,” said Murphy. “We both push each other to do well and we both understand when one isn’t doing so well, we can say ‘hey, what’s up?’ I am glad to have someone on the team that I can rely on and trust that much, because it does help to have someone in your corner.”

“We definitely have a competition every week,” said Fears. “For the two of us, it is whoever brings their game that day. We definitely want to get that going at the same time, especially at the conference championship. It is definitely more fun having someone like her to compete with.”

Mercer returns with consistency and experience in 2012-13, as this year’s lineup is comprised of the same five that competed last season: seniors Auriele Wiriath and Kaitlin Marrin, juniors Fears and Murphy and sophomore Sarah Brown. All five have broken par in qualifying, and Guyer is looking forward to when things truly begin to click.

“Sarah Brown is really playing lights out,” said Guyer. “She has worked hard on her game and qualified number one this spring, so if she puts it together and gets her confidence up, then I can see her getting it going as well. Auriele is always consistent, and has won a tournament before by shooting under par to win. Kaitlin also has a 70 in qualifying, so all of them have the potential. If all of them got clicking, it would be fun to watch.”

Along with the Bears’ talent, Murphy attributes much of the team’s success last year and now into this season to this consistency and familiarity with each other and a common focus.

“I think our success in the fall really goes back to our common goal – that we all want to get better,” said Murphy. “We have the same five traveling this year that traveled last year, so having that same program, same system, and same environment is adding up really well for us. We have five girls who want to play to the best of our ability and everyone just feeds off of that.

“Our camaraderie has grown every year that I have been here. The team gets better and more focused, and it has been a lot of fun to play with people who want to do better every day. It inspires you to do better every day too. When you all have that goal to perform better it helps, because we are all able to help each other.”

The Bears’ success is no accident, because Guyer’s team operates in an extremely competitive environment. Everything the Bears do is centered on competition; a strategy that he believes is paying off, particularly in the mental game.

“Because our environment is extremely competitive, and everything that we do is centered around that, when they get to the actual competition they have ‘been there before,’” Guyer says.

“Plus, the short game has been great, and our putting has been good,” he continues. “But I think the thing that is helping the most is that we have five people who have played together for two years now, so they are just coming together as a team. When someone has your back and you don’t have a great day, that really helps you.

“I think just coming together as a team will be the difference and help us build on the success of the fall. Now I am not saying that we are sitting around a campfire singing Kumbayah, because we are competing every day. But in the past where they have played more as individuals, they are coming together and learning and being able to play with each other.”

With the hiring of Dr. Joe Wolstencroft as his assistant coach, Guyer’s relationship with his team is also growing. An active member of the mental health field for more than 25 years, Dr. Wolstencroft aids the team from the prospective of a sports psychologist, while also providing golf instruction. For Guyer, Wolstencroft has already helped him learn more about his team and how to effectively deal with a variety of players and personalities.

“He has helped me relate to some of the girls better, helping me understand when to push and when to back off,” Guyer said. “I want them to perform at their utmost level, but I have to understand that some of them are feelers and some are thinkers. He has helped me learn their personality types, how to reach them and how to address their fears. We meet once a week and hold nothing back, and that truly has helped the team understand each other.”

Like many or most of the teams in the A-Sun, everything is done with the goal of winning the conference championship in mind. So as the Bears continue to gel, to improve and compete in a conference in which the bar continues to be raised, Murphy understands what is required to ascend to the next level.

“We will have to rededicate ourselves to working even harder than we did in the fall,” said Murphy. “We have some good tournaments coming up, and staying as dedicated in practice is what will matter, because the level of golf is rising in the A-Sun.

“Last year our three-day score would have won previous A-Sun Championships, and we came in third. I think that really lights the fire. The more challenging and the better it gets, it is going to make me work harder. Having that extra drive for competition helps you get better.”

While the drills and the competition are simply tactics that prove that there is a method to his madness, Guyer’s goal can be boiled down to a few simple premises.

“I know it sounds cliché, but our goal is to be a little better every day...and to have fun,” said Guyer. “You can’t control a lot of things, but you can control your attitude, and make a good committed shot at the ball each time. We are just trying to get prepared and let the chips fall where they may. But one thing is for sure - we will be prepared.”